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Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry

Written on September 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm, by Eric Cressey

I've talked quite a bit in the past about how much I like bottoms-up kettlebell exercises to get great "reflexive" firing of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers in a more unstable environment. I'm also a big fan of carrying variations – so it gets me pretty pumped up when I can combine the two!  With that in mind, today, I want to talk about the 1-arm Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carry.

This is an exercise that I really like to utilize with a lot of our baseball players early in the off-season, as it teaches them to relax the latissimus dorsi to allow proper scapular upward rotation to take place.  My two biggest cues are to "keep the biceps quiet" and "don't let the lower back arch."  If you do these two things, chances are that everything else will "click" just right.  Check out this video for a more detailed coaching tutorial:

I like to program 2-4 sets of 30-40yds on each arm. We'll often use this in place of a pressing exercise with our baseball guys, particularly in the early off-season when we're working to establish optimal scapular upward rotation after a long season.  Give it a shot for yourself and you'll find that it'll quickly be a great addition to your strength training programs, whether you're a throwing athlete or not!

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25 Responses to “Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry”

  1. Chris Says:

    What weight to you use for the kettle bell. When doing the bottoms up kettle bell Walk?

    thanks
    Chris

  2. abdi Says:

    Do you think this new tool can have similer benefits for the rotator cuff and scapula ?
    http://www.anthem-sports.com/assets/images/a85-110bw.jpg

  3. Sam Says:

    How much lbs for high school pitcher 9th-12th grade?

  4. Steve Lantner Says:

    Hey Eric,
    After a year or so of reading your blog posts, I’m always amazed at their relevance to me personally. But this is different. Yesterday I found myself at the gym doing 1-arm bottom up KB carries, which I haven’t done in a long time. Either you’re having me surveilled, or I’ve got a serious case of EC on the brain.
    Thank you for all the great information.

  5. Eric Cressey Says:

    Chris,

    Females may start with 4kg, males with 8kg.  I’ve had athletes go as heavy as 20kg.

  6. Eric Cressey Says:

    Abdi,

    On a smaller scale, yes. Don’t like the tendency toward humeral anterior glide with the elevated handles in that photo, though.

  7. Drew Massey Says:

    I love these types of carries. Great “bang for buck” exercises as they can be incorporated into conditioning sessions or in-between major lifts.
    What do you think of the Overhead Version in the “rack” position instead of bottoms up. Obviously this would be a progression. I tend to like them as the weight of bell facilitates scapular depression and as previously stated “reflexive firing”. Penny for your thoughts?

  8. Michael Says:

    Eric,

    What position of the arm do you coach? If I were to look at the athlete from overhead with 0 degrees being straight ahead.

    Cheers.

  9. Paris Says:

    This is a great exercise. We often use this in a little ‘bottom up’ matrix with 1/2 TGU, Arm bar, windmills and military press on a Swiss ball for our rugby guys. Keeps shoulders packed n strong as long as the ‘scap in back pocket’ cue is nailed. Followed you for years – keep up the great work!

  10. Jake Says:

    Any certain regressions/progressions this particular exercise should/could receive? As for example, half-kneeling bottoms-up KB Press, TGU, reverse lunges w/unilateral BU KB holds, et cetera?

  11. Erik Says:

    Clarification…so I take it you don’t want them to “pack the shoulder down” on this since you’re wanting them to “relax the lat”?

  12. Shane"Aussie" McLean Says:

    Love this exercise. Eric I have done this with my elbow tuck in by my side. What is the main difference?

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Shane,

    You drive some upward rotation of the scapular and get the lat to turn off.

  14. Eric Cressey Says:

    Erik,

    Correct.  We want the scapula to upwardly rotate, not get cranked down into depression/downward rotation.

  15. Eric Cressey Says:

    Michael,

    It should pretty much be straight ahead, although it’s okay for the arm to deviate a bit into the scapular plane.

  16. Eric Cressey Says:

    Drew,

    We’ll do waiter’s walks as well (or crosswalks). Not convinced that cranking someone into scapular depression in the overhead position is a good thing.  Posterior scapular tilt with good upward rotation is what you want.

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jake,

    Regression would be to do it from the rack position.

    Progressions would be pressing variations (bottoms-up), TGU, bottoms-up single-leg work, or waiter’s walks (KB overhead).

  18. jeff Beard Says:

    Hi Eric, I like the Kettlebell bottoms up exercise to relax the Lat.
    I was a little surprised with the empty cans exercise. I have read that we are moving away from this exercise as it has been shown to decrease the sub-acromial space and thus incresing impingement. I can attest to this in my own body. The new concept is the thumbs up letter “Y” exercise as this tends to open the sub-acomial space and ease impingement. I can again attest to this in my own body. Some feedback?
    Thanks. Jeff Beard

  19. Caleb Says:

    EC, can you comment a little more about turning off the lat in the overhead position? this is basically against everything that is taught through RKC/SFG. i get what you are saying in regards to upward rotation and posterior tilting of the scapulae and how that might free up more subacromial space. but isn’t the lat one of the biggest contributors to force transfer and stability to the upper extremities? if you look @ the IO of the lat, wouldn’t the action in the overhead position be to somewhat help depress the humeral head and assist in reducing the risk of impingement? or are the effects of the lat more global due to the large number of synergists and the downward rotation force it puts on the inferior angle of the scapulae? looking for clarification. thanks!

  20. Ken Says:

    Eric, if you don’t have any light kettlebells at the moment, would a dumbbell work? what is the purpose of the top-heaviness of the bottoms-up KB, is it to get you to squeeze hard?

  21. Eric Cressey Says:

    Ken,

    Yes, you can use a DB.  The Bottoms-up position adds an element of instability.

  22. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jeff,

    Where was empty can mentioned?

  23. Eric Cressey Says:

    Caleb,

    Lat internally rotates the humerus, closing down the subacromial space.  Additionally, it attaches to the scapula in about 40% of the population and has a gross extension/depression effect, which limits scapular upward rotation.  It’s important for the scapula to be able to upwardly rotate to maintain the congruency of the ball and socket.  That said, good “packing” of the scapula comes from posteriorly tilting, not depressing.

  24. Caleb Says:

    thanks EC. always appreciate it.

  25. Scott Umberger Says:

    Great exercise. I also military press bell up….(crickets)… for my non overhead throwing athletes. It’s hard as hell and they can’t use a ton of weight.
    I use the traditional KB “tuck” with the KB lying on the forearm (like when performing a front squat) and have my adult bootcampers walk while using only 1 arm at a time. Similar concept just a more basic modification for the population.

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